Three days after being dumped by the man I love, I stride up to the foreboding iron gate outside my friend Caitlin K. Roberts’ apartment. I’m right on time for my four-handed erotic massage.

For many, this would be a blissful proposition – and it would be for me, too, if I wasn’t utterly gutted this week. Anxieties keep intruding on my excitement: what if I can’t stop thinking about my ex during the massage? What if receiving touch makes me panic? What if I burst into tears on the massage table?

With a firm shake of my head, I shore up my resolve, open the gate, and walk into the building. Here we go.

For the past few months, I’ve been following Caitlin’s adventures in erotic touch via her Facebook page. She's traveled to far reaches of the U.S. and Canada to study therapeutic modalities of sexual touch. One such modality is sexological bodywork – also known as somatic sex education or simply “SexBod” – in which the client receives therapeutic and erotic touch as treatment for a wide range of sexual woes, from premature ejaculation to pelvic pain to sexual trauma.

Shortly after completing her trainings, Caitlin announced on Facebook that a fellow practitioner, Cosmo Meens, was coming to town for a bit, and that the two of them would be offering erotic massage together. These would be based in the framework of SexBod, but closer to the sexy side of the spectrum than the therapeutic one. The goal would be for the client to feel good, not for them to work through traumas or other issues, since that kind of work requires more than one session.

Receiving an erotic massage has been on my bucket list (or “fuck-it list,” if you prefer) for as long as I can remember, so I messaged Caitlin right away to book a session. After discussing whether it would be weird for her to administer a massage to a friend (“I trust in your professionality and personal autonomy enough that I think it would be totally fine,” she told me), we agreed on a price, date, and time. And so the anticipation began.

Today, when I arrive at Caitlin’s apartment, she greets me with a warm hug and introduces me to her co-practitioner, Cosmo. They make a well-balanced pair: Caitlin’s a petite pixie whose face breaks into a radiant grin at the slightest provocation, and Cosmo is a tall, strong guy with a big presence and a formidable moustache. We chat a bit and I feel immediately at ease.

Caitlin brings me a glass of water and we settle onto her sofa. “Do you have any questions for us?” she asks, and I wrack my brain, but nothing comes up. Then she asks another question, one I’ve dreaded lately: “How are you feeling?”

“I actually just went through a breakup three days ago, so I’m kind of… really not good,” I reply. “But maybe this is a good thing for me to be doing. I’m having a lot of feelings of undesirability, of unworthiness, of not deserving pleasure.”

“We all deserve pleasure,” Cosmo says to me, seriously, immediately. “Pleasure is our birthright.”

I nod solemnly, agreeing in theory but not so much in practice. Not in reference to myself.

They usher me into the second bedroom of Caitlin’s apartment, which has been transformed into a massage space. Ambient electronic music thrums from a Bluetooth speaker. “Undress to your comfort level,” Caitlin instructs me, and they leave the room for a few moments while I strip down to my skivvies, think better of it, and get fully naked. I lie on my back on the massage table and close my eyes.

Narrating what they’re doing while they do it, Caitlin and Cosmo place their hands along the “center line” that runs down my chest and belly, and encourage me to breathe deeply and slowly. The central conceit of SexBod is that it’s all about what the client wants, at any given moment – so they check in with me steadily as they begin to trace light touches all over my body. “How does that feel?” “Is there anywhere that particularly wants to be touched?” “How can we make this better for you?”

Each time I offer an adjustment – “More pressure, please”; “Could you squeeze my hips?”; “I love having my breasts touched” – the reply is a murmured “Thank you.” It’s deeply affirming to me as a person who sometimes struggles to ask for particular things in my sex life. Never before have I felt so appreciated for simply requesting what I want.

Read: Asking for It: 7 Tips for Getting the Sex Life You Always Wanted

As Caitlin and Cosmo’s touch moves in a more carnal direction, focusing more on my breasts, thighs, and belly with a luxurious application of coconut oil, I have the thought: “This is the first time I’ve felt turned on in days.” The night before, I eked out an orgasm under my pajama pants while watching porn, but it was perfunctory, purely functional, designed to relieve post-breakup stress. There was no real pleasure or sensuality in it. Not like this.

“How do you refer to your genitals?” Caitlin coos in my ear.

“Uhh, my vulva, I guess?” I respond. This environment doesn’t feel salacious enough for my usual dirty-talk faves, “cunt” and “pussy.”

“Are you comfortable receiving some touch on your vulva now?” she continues, and I nod. Am I ever.

The two of them gently massage my thighs apart, and one pair of hands begins to graze my labia in rhythmic strokes while the other continues exploring my upper body. My legs fall further open as I get more turned on, arching my back, breath quickening.

“How can I make this better for you?” someone asks, minutes later, when I’m so simultaneously relaxed and turned on that I feel like I’m floating in space.

“I want something inside me, please,” I beg – and after a moment, I feel one of Cosmo’s strong fingers enter me. I guide him verbally to the right place, offer minute adjustments until he finds a rhythm I like, and then I’m lost in a familiar feeling of Oh yeah, just like that.

Just when I’m beginning to pine for orgasm, Caitlin wonders in my ear, “How do you like your clitoris touched?” and I’m amazed I’m able to tell her. It’s a goddamn miracle I can string a sentence together when I’m this blissed out.

She gets it exactly right before too long. (Who knew asking specifically for what you want is the best way to get specifically what you want, right?!) Meanwhile, it feels too crass to refer to Cosmo’s sensual manoeuvres as “fingerbanging,” but that’s what he’s doing: banging away at the spot I know is going to make me come.

I become acutely aware that I am indeed going to come, and I almost laugh out loud at the realization. My orgasms are rare with people who don’t know my body well, because I’m anxious and prone to downplaying my own desires in the service of others’. I had fully resigned myself to viewing this massage as an opportunity for pleasure but probably not for orgasm. And yet, here’s a giant orgasm, sneaking up on me, threatening to split me wide open.

I had fully resigned myself to viewing this massage as an opportunity for pleasure but probably not for orgasm. And yet, here’s a giant orgasm, sneaking up on me, threatening to split me wide open.

As if they exchanged a wordless nod of understanding, both Caitlin and Cosmo suddenly amp up their ministrations, grinding harder and faster against the spots that make me fall apart. And I do. My head tilts back, my hips tip up, I let out a strangled cry and I come, pulsating against their clever fingers. “Beautiful,” someone purrs. “Beautiful.”

They spend the remaining ten minutes of my massage gently touching me all over, occasionally eliciting a shuddering aftershock when they graze my hypersensitive clit. Then they wrap me in a sheet, like a cozy coconut-oil-and-cum-covered cocoon. “Whenever you’re ready,” Caitlin tells me, “you can get up, dry off, get dressed, and join us in the living room. No rush.”

It’s only when the two of them leave the room that I finally burst into tears, after being afraid all day that I would cry during the massage. I feel cleansed. In the week since I last had sex with my now-ex, no one’s focused on me so completely – not even me, during masturbation – and I feel enveloped by their attention, swaddled in it, safe.

For a few minutes, I cry, silently, but hard enough that I can feel the massage table trembling beneath me. And then I get up, scrub the excess coconut oil off my skin with a towel Caitlin provided, and step back into my clothes.

After a short aftercare-y debrief in which Caitlin and Cosmo offer me chocolate and strawberries, chat with me a bit, and then hug me goodbye, I walk out into the August sunshine. There is – to use an enormous cliché – a spring in my step. It’s the first time in days that I’ve felt … happy. Effortlessly, uncomplicatedly happy.

I feel grounded, embodied. I’m no longer afraid that my ex was the last person who’ll ever want me or give me pleasure, because I feel pleasured and desirable and he’s not even part of the equation.

There’s still a sadness somewhere at the base of my spine, and it’ll creep back up in the coming weeks, as grief is wont to do. But for the time being, I feel one step closer to freedom from him. Soft-skinned and smelling of coconut oil, I walk off smiling into the afternoon.